La Belle Vie: Walking, cycling and dining in France

From the true origins of France's favourite bread and how to survive a French traditional dinner to the country's best cycling routes, our new weekly newsletter La Belle Vie offers you an essential starting point for eating, talking, drinking and living like a French person.

La Belle Vie: Walking, cycling and dining in France
Two amateur cyclists pass by snowcovered roadside in Tignes France in 2019. (Photo by Marco Bertorello / AFP)

La Belle Vie is our regular look at the real culture of France – from language to cuisine, manners to films. This newsletter will be published weekly and you can receive it directly to your inbox, by going to newsletter preferences or adding your email to the sign-up box in this article.

French baguettes have finally gotten the recognition they deserve. With 320 made every second in France, working out to just under half a baguette per person per day, the tradition behind baking these doughy delicacies has now been inscribed in UNESCO’s “intangible cultural heritage” list.

As all francophiles know, baguettes are a source of national pride in France. There are countrywide competitions to judge France’s best boulangers, who have to make the bread en respectant la tradition – using just four ingredients; flour, water, yeast and salt. After that it’s up to the skill of the baker to make a truly delicious baguette, a skill that will now forever be internationally recognised. 

Baguettes have been around for a long time in France, but you might be surprised to learn that they only officially got their name in 1920. The history is surprisingly blurry, with some pointing to baguettes as “Napoleon’s bread of war” and others referencing a certain Viennese bakery in central Paris in the late 1830s.

Let them eat bread: the origins of the French baguette

If you attend a French dinner party, you will almost certainly be offered some baguette to go along with your food, where it is is intended to be eaten alongside the main course. The entrée (appetizer or starter) is a course in itself during a traditional French dinner, and you definitely do not want to confuse it with the main course only to find yourself no longer hungry when the bœuf bourguignon comes along.

While it won’t go on forever, French dinners typically have several courses, with time for cheese being one of the most important. 

Apéro to digestif: What to expect from every step of a French dinner

While enjoying a meal with your French friends, you are bound to hear plenty of French – that is in part due to the fact that French dinners are deliberately spaced out so as to encourage more time for discussion and socialising.

The host or hostess might regale you with some explanations of the food on the table – perhaps how it was cooked or some crucial part of the recipe. However, you will hear plenty of other French expressions referencing food, particularly fruits and vegetables, during the moments when you are not holding a fork and knife too.

Food is very important to the French, and as such it appears in the French language quite a lot too. 

21 essential French fruit and vegetable expressions

To work up your appetite for your next French meal, why not consider a bit of cycling? Taking a bicycle around France is one of the best ways to enjoy the stunning countryside, fresh air, and adorable villages – all while getting a good workout. 

You may not have known that France has a huge network of car-free cycling paths winding across the country, and the rate of new paths being built and old ones expanded upon is ever increasing. You also do not have to worry about encountering too many steep hills, as many of the bike paths have been put in place of old rail lines – meaning you can benefit from a mostly flat cycling route. 

The Local spoke with cyclist and travel website editor Bella Molloy to hear about her favourite seven cycling routes across France.

Vineyards to canals: 7 of the best cycle routes in France

The reality is that not all of us are cyclists though. If you would prefer a nice stroll, France has a lot to offer in that regard too. One location stands out as a walker’s paradise.

Located off France’s northern coast, the island of Cezembre might not sound appealing at first, considering the fact that it is covered in unexploded munitions from World War II. 

But don’t worry – the island opened up for visitors in 2018 after extensive de-mining efforts allowed for the opening of a marked path. With incredible views over the Atlantic Ocean and a fascinating history to match, Cezembre is definitely worth the ‘must-see’ list for your next trip.

Mine-riddled French island becomes unlikely walkers’ paradise

Finally, if you are looking for another lesser known method of planning a tour de France, you could consider chasing down all of France’s many Statues of Liberty – or la Liberté éclairant le monde as she is known in French.

That’s right – the Lady Liberty standing tall outside of New York City is not the only one in the world. She has many replicas in France – 12 stand out among the pack, and one is even located on the Seine River in Paris.

From Bordeaux to Colmar, you can find find symbols of Franco-American friendship all over the country. 

Where to find France’s 12 Statues of Liberty

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La Belle Vie: The secret to the French love of strikes, comics and sexy accents

From the French love affair with comic books to why strikes happen on certain days and unpacking the myth of a sexy French accent, this week's La Belle Vie newsletter offers you an essential starting point for eating, talking, drinking and living like a French person.

La Belle Vie: The secret to the French love of strikes, comics and sexy accents

La Belle Vie is our regular look at the real culture of France – from language to cuisine, manners to films. This newsletter is published weekly and you can receive it directly to your inbox, by going to your newsletter preferences in “My account”.

People across France – both young and old – are gearing up for the 50th edition of the Angoulême International Comics festival – the third biggest comic book festival in the world.

To honour the occasion, I got in touch with a few experts in bande dessinée (French for comic books) to understand why French people love comics so much.

Bande dessinée: Why do the French love comic books so much?

This year for Christmas, I was gifted three bandes dessinées, and so far I have read one – the French, graphic novel version of Brave New World. Each year, I resolve to read more books in French, but when it comes down to it I either fall asleep or end up getting about halfway through before giving up and picking up a reliable English-language read. 

Oddly enough, I have found that bandes dessinées are a great way to read in French without the pressure of having to make it through dense, complex French literature. The pictures along the way help you to understand if you miss a word or two, and it feels more relaxing.

Six French ‘bandes dessinées’ to start with

The other big topic in l’Hexagone lately has been the government’s controversial pension reform plans, and the strikes to go along with them. Strikes are commonplace in France, so much so that our “Strikes” page on The Local France’s website is one of our most active tabs. (So if you find yourself in France during a strike, it might be worth bookmarking that link.)

But there is some science behind when these strikes occur. For instance, you may have noticed that they tend to fall on weekdays, and more specifically – Tuesdays and Thursdays. This is no coincidence.

Reader question: Why do French strikes always seem to be on Tuesdays and Thursdays?

If you have spent any time in France – either as a tourist or living here full-time – you have probably also found yourself in front of the Google search bar typing out the simple question “Why are the French rioting/on strike?”

The Local decided to allow Google to autofill some commonly asked questions about France, and we found that people have been pondering questions from “Why is France called France?” to “Why are the French always surrendering?” So in response, we have taken some time to dive into the FAQs about France.

Sex, strikes and surrender: The most commonly asked questions about France and the French

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a commonly Googled question – one people have been curious about for over 150 years – was “Why are the French so romantic?”

However, BBC Journalist Hélène Daouphars found herself asking a different question altogether: “Is France the home of romance or a place of rampant sexual harassment?” Daouphars made a documentary about sexual harassment in France, taking a look back at how #MeToo played out in the land of the Gauls. 

In an article for The Local, Daouphars explained why she chose this topic:

Is France the home of romance or a place of rampant sexual harassment?

In addition to France having a reputation for being the home of romance and love, the French language is also regularly named as the ‘sexiest’ accent for men, women and even cartoon skunks.

But according to linguists, there probably is not anything intrinsically attractive about the French accent, and perhaps it’s really all in our imagination.

Mythbusters: Is French really a ‘sexy’ accent?